Renewal amid a pandemic in 2022: points to ponder | Sunday Observer

Renewal amid a pandemic in 2022: points to ponder

9 January, 2022

A brand-new year amid a planetary pandemic is with us. It is the time to relook at ourselves to renew ourselves towards the needed revival in multiple fronts. In referring to typical strategy jargon, let me propose a PESTEEL renewal highlighting political, economic, social, technological, environmental, ethical, and legal aspects. Today’s column is an elaboration of some refreshing thoughts for reflections and resolutions. 

Overview

Many of us would tend to say that the year 2021 was over so fast. This has been an increasingly common utterance in recent times. “The bad news is time flies; The good news is you’re the pilot”, Michael Altshuler consoles us. The refreshing sprit of a brand-new year invites us not only to have brand new thoughts but to convert them into grand actions. As usual, people tend to have New Year resolutions. My suggestion is to go beyond scant resolutions, to have specific reinforcements. Let us begin with PESTEEL aspects related to all of us.

Political renewal

“If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in five years there’d be a shortage of sand”, said Milton Friedman referring to a one time scenario in the US. Is it relevant to us in this day and time? People elected their representatives to perform and ensure progress and prosperity.  It is different to pursuing “their” progress with a personal agenda. I will not state the obvious with regards to sentiments of common masses but would only request a constructively critical “performance assessment”.

One may blame Covid-19 as the mother of all problems. Yet, where is the focus on efficiency and effectiveness? Are our respected representatives “doing the right things right”? A simple and straightforward performance assessment of each ministry and the associated entities with regards to “planned vs. actual” is vital. It will shed light to course corrections and committee collaborations to deliver what was promised. The starting point is to shift from “ego to eco” with people and planet in mind.

Economic renewal

The Sri Lanka State of the Economy 2021 report by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) sheds much light into the critical challenges in front of us. “The Covid-19 pandemic served to highlight structural challenges predating the pandemic. Fiscal weaknesses were the most critical, but not the only one. Sri Lanka entered the crisis with an uninspiring export performance, high and rising informality in the labour market, inadequate social protection, inequities in access to education and health services and rising food insecurity, among others. The pandemic in turn has profoundly altered perceptions about the appropriate settings for economic policy to better prepare for the future.”

Much has been said about the dire economic state by a multitude of experts. All I have to say is the dire need to listen to “genuine and authentic” experts and not to the so-called ones.  Time has come to move beyond petty political rivalry to work towards economic recovery.  As we have hit the rock bottom, the positive fact is that it must be an upward movement with fresh thinking and focused actions.

Social renewal

Have we been able to mend the differences and unite as the children of one mother (eka mawakage daruwan), the way we sing in our national anthem, during the past year? I have my reservations. The wounds of the victims of the Easter Sunday attack are still not healed.

The typical blame game continues without any shame. The “one country one law” initiative has received mixed responses countrywide highlighting the danger of communal and ethnic tensions. As I have been often observing, when connections become more important than competencies, particularly with regards to filling top slots, rifts and rivalries repeat more.

We need to celebrate unity in diversity with true appreciation of the multi-ethnic and multi-religious nature of our socio-cultural fabric. Under the shelter of a massive shady tree, other trees and plants can co-exist without any conflict. The treasured tolerance of Buddhism, the divine love or Christianity, the diligent discipline of Islam and the valued blessings of Hinduism should collectively foster a much-needed social renewal.

Technological renewal

One thing we can be happy about is the availability of the latest version of the I-phone not only in New York, but in New Delhi and Negombo as well. The challenge is the affordability. The digital division around the globe with “fast” vs. “slow” countries where not only the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) but also the GBPS (Giga Bytes per Second) matter. As  Executive Chairman, Google, USA, Eric Schmidt observed some time ago, “Around 400 million people in 2014 got a smartphone. If you think that’s a big deal, imagine the impact on that person in the developing world…It’s because our smartphones are basically supercomputers.”

As already declared, we need to demonstrate ourselves as an “island of ingenuity” and not as an “island of isolation”.  We have a long way to go with regards bridging the urban-rural divide with technology inclusivity.

The non-availability of internet access to schoolchildren in remote areas where they had to climb treetops to get connected to a weak signal was the tip of an iceberg having a plethora of issues. We need to move forward with innovative cost-effective and sustainable solutions.

Environmental renewal

Eternal complaints of erratic actions causing much damage to the environment are a regular feature in Sri Lanka. We sadly witnessed a “garbage carnage” in Meetotamulla a few years ago.  The ambitious development plans for Muthurajawela are the latest hot spot. It always reminds me of what Red Indian Leader Seattle said a long time ago. “The earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. ... The earth is sacred, and men and animals are but one part of it. Treat the earth with respect so that it lasts for centuries to come and is a place of wonder and beauty for our children.”

The much-needed harmony between the community and conservation needs to be uplifted with better communication. The short-sighted motives to damage the environment for monetary gains may backfire creating much chaos. The wisdom needed by the key decision makers in being proactive and preventive seems to be lacking in many instances. We cannot afford to lose our forest cover which is currently approx. 30 percent any further. In Bhutan it is 71 percent, and they strive to sustain it for prosperity. Something refreshingly different should happen with an eco-conscious mindset at the helm.

Ethical renewal

It is a deeper and subtler aspect that has implications to all of us. It is easy to curse the darkness but difficult to light a candle. “In civilised life, law floats in a sea of ethics”, said a former governor of US, Earl Warren. Ethics deals with the discipline concerned with what is good or bad and what is right or wrong. As citizens of Sri Lanka, are we ethical in our social behaviours? It can be as simple as dropping off a garbage bag in the wrong place.

The often accusation that if leaders rob, why should we refrain from doing so will take in a wrong direction with dire consequences.

A good start will be to be ethical in one’s own words and deeds, in demonstrating a value-based behaviour. As I often say, we need to produce “economic value” by practising “ethical values”. “A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both”, said Dwight D. Eisenhower. Are we experiencing that plight is a worthwhile point to ponder?

Legal renewal

We have often heard the legal maxim that “Justice delayed is justice denied”. Sri Lanka is famous for prolonging cases, obviously due to a variety of constraints. Can technology in general and digitalisation in specific, be of help? Have we done enough in making headways of virtual hearings and other means of expediting the legal procedures?

I as a concerned citizen can only share my observations for the speedy actions by the authorities. Perhaps, a steady strengthening of the resources, primarily people and physical, might ease the congestion and avoidable delays.

From a much broader perspective, the vitality of three key pillars, viz. the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary to sustain a democratic system needs to be emphasised. The independence on one hand, and the inter-dependence on the other hand of the judiciary raise many complex issues ranging from collaboration to corruption. Country needs a long-awaited legal renewal in such a context.

Way forward

The dawn of 2022 offers us another opportunity to have a fresh look at our lives. A renewal is much required towards revival as an individual, as an interactive team member, as an institutional employee, all above as an integral player in an island of ingenuity. I have resolved myself to stay in Sri Lanka as a “first class citizen”, despite all the doom and gloom without seeking for greener pastures elsewhere. It is surely not because of desperately lacking opportunities but to show my obligation to the beloved country I was blessed with since birth. 

Mother Sri Lanka needs each one of us. With its abundant beauty and available brains, blunt politicians should not be allowed to ruin its future. Let us shed our differences aside and perform productively towards prosperity for posterity. That is the sure-fire way of making 2022 truly meaningful and memorable.

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